Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Celebrating Laura and what her cancer has taught me.
A warning: This blog is long and personal. That is why I posted it here instead of over at the other one. If you want to Learn More about Laura Guevara and her journey you can reach her on fb and twitter! She is a wealth of knowledge and courage. www.facebook.com/LauraGuevara08!
It has taken me more than a week to sit down to write this blog. The words have been swirling in my mind, but I just couldn't do it. Every time I thought about it, I’d make myself sick with tears. It’s as if—If I write the words then it becomes reality. I’m still praying to wake up and find its one of those crazy lucid dreams I tend to have. I've actually stopped and started this blog at least three times in the last hour. * I had to walk away from this blog again. I sent what I had to Laura poured myself two shots of whiskey (which happen to be doubles cuz my shot glasses are tall) and went to bed and cried myself to sleep. Because I’ve been accused of show boating before, I needed to know that this was ok with Laura. Once I had her approval, I got back up and added to and tried my best to edit this. Purple is me trying to be clearly and complete in my thinking. I’ve avoided even coming into my office for nearly six days because the sight of my laptop made me break out in a sweat. I know I need to get these words out. To set them down so they aren’t lost, but I feel like …they shouldn’t be set free. If I keep them inside then I can hide from them. I wanted to NOT have to face them staring back at me from the screen.
By now most of you know that my very good friend and sometimes co-author Laura Guevara has cancer. She was diagnosed two years ago. Not that there is ever a good time to get a diagnosis of triple negative stage four breast cancer, but she learned of her cancer just when everything should have been going great in her life. A new first time mom with a 8 month old bouncing baby girl. She had been making career moves and life changes. She was getting ready to take the world by storm.
My heart dropped. Laura isn’t the first friend or family member that has received such a horrible blow. Years ago before CWB and I got married one of our closest friends received a similar diagnosis only days after giving birth to her third child and only son. Melissa, however, didn’t get a chance to fight like Laura. Her cancer was too advanced and within months she was gone.
I recently spent a week with Laura for her birthday. The last time we spent significant time together like that was in Vegas. And there was no cloud hanging over us in the oppressive heat. Just smiles and laughter and life waiting to be lived. So we’ve had two years of trying to rebuild our friendship and balancing it between fighting for her life and just living every day. She has a baby girl and I have been struggling with infertility. There wasn’t time for long weekends and road trips. Neither of us as written a book in over three years; together or separate. LIFE even when you’re facing death just keeps going-just keeps getting in the way.
Anyway, I was fearful as I boarded the plane. Even though I had just seen Laura in June, I was … sick with worry. My mind has been whirling since she asked me to join her for her birthday. We’ve planned plenty of trips in the past two years, but never been able to manage them. What if she was calling on me so that she could find away to tell me something horrible?
I thought I knew a lot about cancer. My grandmother passed away in 1992 from cancer. My husband’s grandmother battled cancer for many years before passing away in 2012. But in every case I’ve learned something new. Sometimes I learn a lot about me as well. Here is what I learned last week.
I am afraid of cancer.
Not just of cancer but I am afraid of Laura’s Cancer. Not because I feel like I’m going to get cancer or anything like that. But I am terrified that cancer is going to take my friend from me. I know that Laura is a fighter. And as long as she is fighting so will I. I also know that LIFE could take Laura away from me. Anything could happen. I’m a klutz, I could trip and break my neck and die. Laura drives like a bat out of hell. She could run someone of the road and they chase her down with road rage. But I’m afraid of this cancer.
If I’m honest right now I’ll admit that part of me dreaded getting on the plan and flying to Houston. See Laura and I are close, but for a solid year or so leading up to her diagnosis we hadn’t really been. You know life just gets in the way. We spoke but not as often as we once had. She had a new boyfriend and I had a new career and …issues. It seems as if we were just getting back to US when the news was delivered.
So we’ve had two years of trying to rebuild our friendship and balancing it between fighting for her life and just living every day. She has a baby girl and I have been struggling with infertility. There wasn’t time for long weekends and road trips. Neither of us as written a book in over three years; together or separate. LIFE even when you’re facing death just keeps going.
What if last week was the last time I ever see her face? Hold her hand? Make her laugh? Hear her call me “estupida cochina”?
Which Brings me to the fact that I learned I’m selfish. And CANCER MAKES YOU EVEN MORE SELFISH.
A LOT SELFISH. Did you see everything I just said up there. ME ME ME ME…I’m afraid that LAURA’S CANCER is going to HURT ME.
A year ago, Laura lost her hair. I’d made a promise to her that I would be bald if she was bald. I would be as much support for her as I could. God, knows that if I could trade her places, I would. But I can’t.
So I shaved my head. And I posted the pictures on social media. Then Laura posted her pictures. She wasn’t so afraid anymore to show her beautiful round cranium. I felt like I had been there, was being there for her. Until someone who used to be very close to me began telling people that I was just showing off. That I should be ashamed of myself. They felt like I was making Laura’s cancer be about me. I was hurt. Crushed. I can’t decide if it was more because the person who said it used to be someone I was once close to…or if I was afraid that they were telling the truth.
For years Laura and I used to campaign for cancer awareness together. Laura’s father and two of her aunts also died from various forms of cancer and as I said before I’ve been no stranger to it. Back in the days of the yahoo groups, we used to do a monthly “BOOBIE BLAST” where we’d send a funny email reminder to everyone to check the ta-tas. Weeks after Laura’s diagnosis she informed me that she was not only going to fight but to make sure that she educated as many people as she could. I co-signed right away. “ANYTHING YOU NEED”
I never stopped to think that, my actions would ever be viewed as me looking for attention. As if I was somehow using Laura’s platform to make myself relevant.
But I suppose I am. Not that I want to be relevant to anyone other than Laura. But, selfishly, after all the time we lost for stupid things; I’m definitely using this combined effort to make sure I don’t let a day go by without being there. I should have been there all along. And my pride almost cost me one of the most beautiful friendships I’ve ever known. I’ll be damned if I’m not there, in whatever capacity she asks of me now. I want to soak up every minute that I can. Every memory. Until the day she kicks me out. * Cancer also makes you selfless. At some point you realize how much the people in your life mean to you and just how much you’d be willing to give up to make sure that they know they are loved, cherished and cared for. I’ve made more of an effort to remind my other friends that even though we have a strange relationship (what with me being a hermit) that they mean so much to me. If they are reading this right now I want them to know that I love them. I really do. And I appreciate them. Life may keep us apart but that doesn’t change the dynamic of us.
For a long time I stopped my fertility treatments because there was a situation going on that I knew…I just knew if Laura needed me I’d do it. If it meant my life for hers I’d do it. And I thought I love CWB but we don’t have children so If I can trade my life so that she can have hers and be with her baby…well I’ve had a good ride. She pretty much called me “estupida cochina, what are you saying. Don’t be a dumb ass. But…thank you.” I meant it then. I mean it now. Laura just smiles and says “No. Someday you’ll be a mom, Drea, besides who is going to teach Sid all the crazy shit only you can teach her?” Side note: seriously…She jokes that Sid is me reincarnated and I not so secretly love it. Sid makes sure that her mom has adventures everyday even when I can’t. It’s pure and glorious shenanigans. And yeah, I’d lay down my life it meant Laura got to be there forever single one of those adventures. * Did I mention how Laura kept texting me to make sure I wasn’t getting into anything. “Sit right here, Drea. I’ll be back. You can go to the café. You don’t have to wait, but don’t get into anything without me.” See that…WITHOUT HER…not don’t get into anything. Just don’t do it with out her. Ha… that’s my road dog. Always up for shenanigans. As much as she is accustomed to being alone in this ( and I don’t mean to insult her family because they are with her every step of the way. Her mom and sister are often with her on these trips and have been by her side 100% the whole time. I am the interloper here) she was worried about my comfort. How I was handling it, was I nervous, “You should go eat, Drea.” As if I could have swallowed my spit at that point. “It takes a while; you have to eat while you can.” (I looked around and noticed people eating various yumminess while there family/friends/loved ones struggled to down giant gulps of flavored barium) “seriously, no one will be offended, we all run out of here to go eat as soon as the scan is done.” Laura has always been a caregiver, whether she wanted to be or not. Cancer has made her even more so.
I also learned that Cancer is lonely.
As many people as you may have to support you. As many people as cancer affects. It’s not a team sport. Just like you have world class athletes who have a crew of people around them, supporting them, cancer patients have doctors and family. But at the end of the day they are on their own.
And so too is each person who is on the pit crew.
I sat in the hospital while Laura flitted from one appointment to the next. All I was really good for was conversation and purse holding. I was there as entertainment. But when it came down to it, she has to do it alone. She is alone when they check her ports or run labs. I can’t drink the barium for her or sit with her in the back while she waits to be moved from room to room to room before finally being stuffed in the machine that scans her body from head to toe.
The least I could do was try not to get kicked out of the hospital and eaves drop on all the other patients’ conversations so that I could relay the stories to her when she came out. I was lonely (there I go again being selfish) sitting in the lobby. So I talked with other people. People like me, who were lonely, waiting on loved ones to be poked and prodded. People like Laura, who didn’t want to go be poked or prodded…alone, without their friends to yell at.
I wanted to explore and check out the hot guy that was calling people’s names and to text her and tell her about the cop that scared me and deterred me from going down to the lobby of the huge hospital on my own.
I wanted to sneak in and take a picture of her in that hospital gown and make her yell at me to go sit still and behave. But I couldn’t. So I took selfies of myself on all her devices and posted them to fb so that she could see them on her phone and know that I was just outside…waiting for her and she wasn’t alone. And I held my breath waiting for each like or reply, because then I knew that I wasn’t alone either. Knowing that our friends and family were all at work or at home waiting to find out if Laura had kicked me out of the car on the 610 or if I could tell them any news, made me able to breathe just a little bit. I won’t say breathe easier. I fought for every breath afraid that if I relaxed someone would come and make me leave or worse tell me something I didn’t want to hear.
I also learned that unless you personally go to as many appointments as you can with someone, ALMOST EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT CANCER IS A LIE! The Images we are feed of cancer patients…they are unfair and one dimensional. I mean sure we sometimes see the images of “survivors” doing walks and celebrating NED ( no evidence of disease) or Remission or even cures. But what about the folks like Laura, who can’t (as of yet) be cured, but can be managed.
You know what I didn’t see at M.D. ANDERSON?
Not as single solitary skeleton person. I didn’t see anyone who LOOKED like they had cancer.
I’m sure several ladies had on wigs. I over heard lots of them talking about their latest pieces. Like seriously, they talked about them like they were shoes. But over all I think I saw six bald heads, four of them were men WHO WERE NOT BEING TREATED FOR CANCER.
Where, I thought, were all the sick people?
The person who could barely walk or had iv’s attached to them.
Laura was looking fabulous. If my boobs were smaller I’d have stolen her peacock shirt. There was a hunky guy who told me he plays intramural basketball and has been coming to M.D. ANDERSON for FIVE YEARS.
There was a young girl. I’d say she was a teenager really, who frankly might have been being treated for severe obesity.
There was a robust cowboy who couldn’t stand his “damn ex wife, the conniving bitch” and an older man who told the cleanest dirty jokes I’ve ever heard in my life.
There were some snooty people who wore their money as if they thought they were too good to be there. There was a girl in “thot” shorts that I SWEAR was bending over in front of me on purpose. There was a couple that got into an argument so heated not only did the call security, Houston P.D. arrived. That cop was the biggest man I have ever seen in my life…and thus my “lil side trip” ended with me finding a vending machine and sitting down to take selfies and look out the window, when my intent was to go down to the gift shop and buy a purse.
Looking at Laura, I wouldn’t know she had cancer. I mean ok she is lopsided and we laugh about how she can hug me on one side and I don’t have to freak out about her boobs touching me anymore. But honestly, looking at her…I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that she is sick. Her curly hair is so luxurious and full, and I shed more in the shower than she does, despite the fact that the chemo is slowly pulling at her hair again.
She got a lecture about her exercising…which made me feel bad about contributing to her “bad eating habits”, and not insisting that she keep the appointment with the dietician.
Whatever I had been expecting, no one there looked anything like it. Everyone was ALIVE. And that gave me hope.
And it made me angry. I’ve known for a while that a lot of charities that support cancer research aren’t really SUPPORTING CANCER PATIENTS. It’s big business. And I was hurt, that there aren’t images of people like Laura or the hot basketball guy or the snarky old man being shown. That the money being raised isn’t being funneled into programs to support the folks LIVING with cancer. NOT dying. NOT dead. ALIVE! MANAGING! FIGHTING! Don’t get me wrong we need a lot of research for a lot of different cures for a LOT of different types of cancer. BUT what about the folks that need help with shoes cuz their feet hurt from the chemo or or… ok I can’t think of all the things I wanted to be indignant about right now. And don’t get me started on what I think about insurance and pharmacies right now.
Cancer can steal your memories… I don’t think I can talk about this part right now. But let me tell you that chemo brain…is probably the thing that is breaking my heart the most. Cancer patients find was to joke about it. But I will never hear that again without my heart trembling and a bitter sadness coloring my vision. I made a vow that I will remember every moment that I can. Because it’s not just the small “oh man I think I’m getting old” memories…but life times and adventures that go missing. I will do my best to stand sentinel and guard those memories with pictures and blogs and long conversations. I WILL NEVER FORGET. * Laura doesn’t remember. Ok, that needs an explanation: Laura has always been a little foggy in the memory department. So have I. It was a running joke between us. CWB would say “ I’m leaving you a note so one of you can remember to remind the other.” Or if one us needed to remember something the conversation would sound like…
“hey remind me to…” and the reply would come seconds later.
“hey don’t forget to …”
“why are you telling me right now when you know I’m going to forget.” “I told you now because I’m not going to remember to remind you later.”
We’ve had that conversation several times, but now its not just goldfish/squirrel moments. There are somethings Laura just can’t remember. Whole periods of times and reasons. “It’s the chemobrain” she told me as we sat together the first night in Houston. She plied me with a strong margarita so that I’d be in a mellow place before she told me. Food and Drink, that’s always been our thing. I sat and listened to her explain in not so many words that this trip was important because she couldn’t remember some other times we’d had together. Oh, she has pictures and she remembers or rather recognizes US, but she can’t for the life of her remember when where why. “That’s me…in the pictures. I see me, but I don’t know why I was there.” She says calmly while pushing my drink towards me. I cried…I’m crying now.
I asked about several adventures and moments. Tears shimmered in her eyes as she shrugged. She was so calm as she admonished me not to cry. “I’m not going to forget you…us Laura. I’m never going to forget and I will remember and remind you of everything.” I said.
“Good, now stop crying before you make me start.” She dug into her nachos and smacked my hand as I tried to steal some from her plate. “You have your own.” She munched away, kicking her feet because she is short and they don’t reach the floor.
See Laura, I’m not going to forget. I’m going to remember everything and If I have to write it down, so will the world. I’m not going to forget the way you looked putting on your make up, or talking back to the sports show on tv, or sneaking pieces of cake when you thought I was sleeping. I definitely won’t forget the way you looked making out with that headboard in your sleep. I took pictures even though you told me not to… because I WILL NEVER NOT REMEMBER YOU.
And mostly, I learned that cancer doesn’t mean death. At least, not always. I’ve always been the person who looked at life as dying. I mean think about it. What is life, at its most basic but the culmination of death. From the very moment we are conceived we begin the process of aging and… dying. The good stuff, the great stuff is all the adventures and shenanigans you get to do on the way. There is a saying that “you only live once”. I say that’s bullshit. You live every damn day. Sometimes you just survive, but if you’re really into LIFE. You get a new one every day. You only DIE once (unless you’re one of those folks that has died then been brought back then you know…you get a couple of turns). You’re only good and dead when the toss you in the big oven or cover you with a ton of dirt.
So being told you have cancer doesn’t mean you’re dead. It just means you have an approximation OF HOW you’re going to die. You could still trip and break your neck, or have Laura run you off the road. So you can’t stop living. The world isn’t going to stop turning. Laura says “Hey, I’m taking advantage of all the perks I can. When I get rid of my other boob I won’t have to buy bras, and my handicap sticker…I love parking up close.” Seriously, she said that. And part of me wanted to be affronted. Like really, who the hell thinks cancer perks are awesome? And then a smile came to my face as Laura whipped into the parking space closest to the door of the bbq shack. Laura does…and I do. I mean. I’d don’t want cancer but not having to buy bras is pretty awesome and who doesn’t like parking in front of the door? That might seem kinda crass, but I realized that my friend is alive. And she is Living. Every. SINGLE. DAY. She lives and breathes and fights. And in this fight I’ve learned who Laura is. This isn’t defining her but damn if she isn’t going to end up in the dictionary as the definition of courage and strength. Cancer is teaching me who the woman behind the name is. I am honored to study. * So this is what I’ve been writing. I know some of you are waiting on me to write something different. I just knew I couldn’t really move forward on anything until I did this. Trust me, Laura is just as anxious as you guys that I WRITE. And I will. We had lots of inspiration while we were in Houston. I needed to do this though. For Laura and for myself. And for anyone out there who knows just what this feels like. I said to Laura, “I feel like I’m mourning you already and that makes me mad. You’re NOT GONE. You’re here.”
Her answer was priceless, “ If you don’t stop that shit I’m going to haunt you when I die.”
I guess that’s what this was. Me mourning. I don’t know if I’m done. I kind of like the idea of her haunting me. That way I don’t have to ever let go. Maybe this is me celebrating her. I like the sound of that better. Celebrating Laura. Yup, and eagerly anticipating my birthday. You see Laura is predicting that her hair is going to fall out by then and selfishly, I get to be bald too.